News


Planned Cambridge Avenue development meets opposition

Residents and business owners raise concerns about proposed three-story building

A new development proposed for 380-410 Cambridge Ave. has some area business owners worried about the changing nature of the commercial neighborhood. Rendering by Brereton Architects.

Karen Price, a massage therapist with a practice on Cambridge Avenue, believes the three-story building on her block won't just change the character of the surrounding area.

It will also, she said Thursday, threaten the character of the city by accelerating the displacement of small, community-serving businesses like her own by tech companies with a global clientele.

Price was part of a group, which included area businesses and residents, who attended the Dec. 21 meeting of the Architectural Review Board to speak out against the project in the California Avenue Business District. The developers, Cambridge Investments, LLC, and Allhouse Deaton Management, have proposed demolishing three existing one-story buildings at 380-410 Cambridge Ave. and replacing them with a three-story development that would have retail on the ground floor and offices on the second and the third. A first-floor garage would include 14 new parking spaces; the remainder of the required parking has already been accounted for by parking infrastructure in the California Avenue Business District, according to the city staff report.

The top two floors of the 35,000-square-foot building would have open-floor layouts, which suggests that the future tenant will be a large company, rather than solo practitioners and the types of small businesses that currently comprise much of the block. That prospect, Price said, is disconcerting.

"These companies add no value to the neighborhood," Price said. "They greatly increase congestion and the lack of parking, as well as drive out local businesses. They destroy the character of California Avenue, which is so highly valued."

She also noted that the business district is zoned for personal services, not for research-and-development, and as such is not suitable for developments like the one proposed.

"This huge building will not help or benefit the people of Palo Alto at all," Price said. "As is happening with the rest of the country, only the few wealthy ones will benefit and the rest will suffer."

Andrew Gottlieb, a therapist with a practice at 415 Cambridge Ave., similarly argued that the project would "harm the neighborhood" and that it "makes no sense." In a letter to the board, he argued that the construction noise and disruption will negatively impact the adjacent residential building at 420 Cambridge Ave. and other office buildings along Cambridge.

The board did not rule on the project Thursday, opting to continue the discussion to a future date. Members made clear, however, that they do not support from the developers for a "design enhancement exception" (DEE) to allow an additional 8 feet of building height, above the 35 feet allowed in the commercial zone.

Steve Pierce, representing the developer team, said he requested the exception to accommodate the council's recent mandate that all current ground-floor retail space should be preserved as retail. When the council approved the law last year, it didn't take into account that retail "requires much greater height than office space would require," Pierce said.

Greater height would allow higher ceilings on the ground floor, which would promote a viable retail operation. Under the current plans, the floor-to-ceiling height would be 9 feet and 5 inches, while the second and third floor would each be 8 feet and 5 inches.

"If you want retail, you need to create the spaces that the retail needs to be successful," Pierce told the board.

The city's planning staff had determined that the height request "does not meet the intent, purpose or applicability requirements for a DEE," which is typically used for minor deviations from design standards, according to a staff report. The board generally agreed.

Board member Robert Gooyer said he believes the 35-foot height is sufficient to accommodate retail.

"The intent these spaces are to be community service spaces, not retail giants that you come a couple of miles to go to. I don't see any problem at all with being able to fit the height (for retail) in the 35 feet."

He also noted that if the developer really wants the additional height for retail, he should just propose a two-story building. Board member Osma Thompson agreed and said the building "begs for a two-story solution."

Board members Alexander Lew and Peter Baltay said the request for the additional height to make retail more viable is a substantive issue that is beyond the board's purview. Baltay noted that "design enhancement exceptions" are typically used to improve a building's design, which is not the case here.

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Editor's note: The Weekly's office is located on the same block as the proposed development. Also, this article has been updated to include proposed parking for the development.

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Comments

25 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 27, 2017 at 3:49 pm

"These companies add no value to the neighborhood," Price said... "They destroy the character of California Avenue, which is so highly valued."

These NIMBYs are getting nuttier by the minute. The only way someone could possibly claim California Avenue has much character, let alone one that is HIGHLY VALUED, is that they've never been anywhere else.

And yes, companies would absolutely add value to the neighborhood. Its employees would patronize the nearby restaurants for dinner (though perhaps not lunch, which would likely be catered), get hair cuts at the nearby barbers, purchase groceries the nearby grocery stores, etc. Not to mention the tax revenue, which would improve our schools and roads.

The existing buildings are dreary eyesores. The new one doesn't look great either, but the idea that that this planned building would destroy something worth preserving is absurd.


30 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm

"Andrew Gottlieb, a therapist with a practice at 415 Cambridge Ave., similarly argued that the project would "harm the neighborhood" and that it "makes no sense." In a letter to the board, he argued that the construction noise and disruption will negatively impact the adjacent residential building at 420 Cambridge Ave. and other office buildings along Cambridge.

ARE THESE PEOPLE INSANE!? You have chosen to be in a downtown area of one of the world's most successful urban areas. People have built things and are going to continue to build things, and it will make noise. DO YOU THINK THE EXISTING BUILDINGS WERE BUILT SILENTLY BY MAGIC WANDS?! If we are to go by Andrew's logic, no buildings should be built near existing buildings. Instead of cities or downtowns, we shall go back to isolated castles intermittently dotting the countryside.


88 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2017 at 4:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Andrew Gottleib is absolutely right. It's already ridiculously tough to park near Cal Ave /Cambridge.

Businesses that benefit residents are what's needed, not another big office park.

As for the restaurants, haven't you read about all the company cafeterias and how local restaurants are begging the big companies like Google and Facebook to let their employees dine downtown for a change instead of pushing them out of business?


84 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Simple - this development proposal should have been discouraged at first contact. If the following is true, then there is no reason to upzone the spot simply to enrich a developer.

"She also noted that the business district is zoned for personal services, not for research-and-development, and as such is not suitable for developments like the one proposed." from the article above.

If a developer wanted to add a second and third story to add housing, especially including some moderate income housing, then some zoning changes might be reasonable. With the drastic shortage of housing, more would be a public benefit.

There is plenty of (probably too much) land already zoned for office space, much of which is eligible to be torn down and rebuilt at a higher density. There is no reason to add more and continue to worsen the jobs/housing imbalance.


40 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2017 at 9:39 pm

"These NIMBYs are getting nuttier by the minute. The only way someone could possibly claim California Avenue has much character, let alone one that is HIGHLY VALUED, is that they've never been anywhere else."

Spoken from the splendid omniscience of Stanford's ivory tower. But really now, that NIMBY bit is quite hackneyed. Whatever happened to that Stanford originality?

Look, Joe. You got enough concrete and glass at home from Stanford's famed edifice complex to keep you quite happy. Now run along, study hard, make a pile of money, and give it to Stanford to build your very own building and name it for you.

Meantime don't worry. Steve Pierce is quite well connected. This building will happen.


70 people like this
Posted by Michael Vilain
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2017 at 11:23 pm

The buildings being torn down to make this larger structure are the barber I go to and fellow therapists I know. The artist's supply shop, a camera shop, a computer store, and stationary store (a former book store) are gone. Most of what's left are restaurants and businesses. Parking is often tricky, just to get a haircut. This building will make parking worse and leave no space for small businesses to have an office.

Karen's been doing her work for 40 years and contributes by doing research into the affects of her work with children at Stanford. She's not a crazy person. When someone argues using an ad hominem fallacious attack rather than the issues, I wonder what the truth is.

I've lived here 30 years and seen Cal Ave. change a lot over that time. I miss the businesses that are gone. Having this huge building won't add value to the neighborhood and will just make parking even more of a nightmare for those that want to get groceries, a haircut, or a hamburger.


37 people like this
Posted by Seth Wu
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 28, 2017 at 10:31 am

Please, please do not force out wonderfully marvelous professional personal service providers like Dr. Scott Pyon, DDS., highly rated and highly appreciated dentist for the Palo Alto neighborhood.

Web Link


14 people like this
Posted by Former friend
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:22 am

[Post removed.]


42 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:23 am

The same thing is happening here in Menlo Park and I hate it. I live next to the train station in an apartment on a street that is all apartment buildings (no houses) and one old house converted to offices. When I moved here eleven years ago there was a row of one story businesses behind my apartment building with useful services that served the community: Laundromat (very necessary as my building has no laundry facilities), a popular restaurant, nail salon, hair salon, design studio. All have been now replaced by a massive three story office building with a two story underground garage. The building belongs to Eric Schmidt for his "philanthropic" (saving Nantucket) endeavors. I used to be able to look out my window and see oak trees but now my view is a giant ugly building. Since it was approved more oversized buildings have been approved to replaced smaller structures near the Menlo Park train station. It seems that once one office building is approved, others follow...


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:29 am

Online Name is a registered user.

That's because the same people that are on PA's commissions are on Menlo Park's. Do some research on the Imagine Menlo group formed a few years ago after the MP voters rejected an increased density plan. The same person who heads PA's Transportation Management Assn heads Imagine Menlo.


26 people like this
Posted by Three stories not so bad, but this design needs work.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:40 am

Three stories not so bad, but this design needs work. is a registered user.

Cold, hideous architecture. This is is an ugly building that doesn't have a human- scaled facade to address the street. I don't object to three stories, but Cambridge abuts residential and local retail areas. The design clearly does not consider context. It needs LOT of work. It needs to pull back from the street a to make space for humans outdoors. Further, what parking does this provide? Parking is a problem in the Cal Ave area.)Please require the developer to provide adequate parking, because I do not want my tax dollars to pay for parking garages for offices. Frankly, I object to the parking garages in the current city budget.

Will these affordable offices for dentists, doctors, therapists be replaced by another tech company? We need services to stay local. Local employers need these service close by too because their employees need to make appointments during their work day.


39 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:58 am

The city needs to start concerning themselves with the types of businesses they bring in, and how it forces other businesses out. Keeping massage therapists, psycho-therapists, dentists, etc in the area should be the top priority, not how tall a building is or isn't. The tech industry brings many positives to the area, but also brings stressed out workers, frazzled parents and many work-aholic type-A personalities to the area. Let's make an effort to keep those helping and healing professionals in the area who are helping take care of everyon in the community, instead of trying to ensure Palo Alto is at the top of the tech industry employment list. It would be a bold statement to the community, school district and world about efforts to create a more balanced community.


43 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2017 at 11:58 am

My biggest problem is that we are losing useful services and this is not just a problem to me but to almost everyone I know. Our tax advisors, medical professionals, and similar useful services and businesses are being forced out and I don't know where we will end up having to go to get these things done. As it is, our tax advisor in the Cal Ave area is surrounded by places I can't park to drop off tax documents in my lunch hour. I only need a spot for 5 or 10 minutes and I don't mind walking a block, but running this simple errand is a major hassle. If he is forced to move (yet again) I will end up having to take time off from my day to drive to wherever just to drop off some documents or sign something.

Is this really what we want Palo Alto to become? We need to be able to get to do the things that make life pleasant as well as some of the necessities of life done close to home. Life is much more than walking to the train station or biking to the Baylands, or even a choice of expensive restaurants. We need to live in Palo Alto, not just exist. This town is turning into a dormitory town which serves those who don't live here in providing work space and expensive eateries. It doesn't serve the local residents who pay the property taxes which should provide a standard of life as well as a standard of living.

I am getting very frustrated with the idea of walkable neighborhoods to places I don't want to go. I am getting very frustrated with the services for those who invade our town every day. I am getting very frustrated that my wants and needs are no longer available close to home and even more frustrated that I am told to use public transportation or walk or bike when I want to run about 10 errands in opposite areas and still get some work done.


26 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm

The original article did not describe how parking is addressed, and, I don't see information in any of the follow-up postings.

I agree 100% with the previous Duveneck resident-- another ugly, cold building. I, too, don't object to three stories, but, I do object to three stories with no character. Definitely needs a redesign.

I would also like to know if the developer will be required to lease space on the first floor at retail/service market rates? Most small, local retail and service businesses will not be able to afford to compete with big players.


46 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The majority of the Palo Alto CC believes that their mission is to represent the interests and aspirations of just about everybody as long as they are not Palo Alto residents. Real estate developers, tech companies, office workers who live elsewhere, outsiders who clamor to move in, etc. I have never heard of local politicians who are so concerned with non residents and so dismissive and disinterested in the quality of life, safety and future of their own residents.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2017 at 12:23 pm

@mauricio

Pretty bold statement coming from a "non resident" who wants the city council to represent him...


8 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 29, 2017 at 1:01 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Is this a ploy to simply get better first class office space on the first floor?

As I recall l when a retail preservation ordinance was finally taken seriously by council members and passed only space with existing retail was protected. Apart from the small spaced used by the barber, and possibly another salon next door, the remainder of these ground floors were already used as offices. It defies belief that a developer would prioritise significantly lower paying retail where not required over leasing first class office space.


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

If PA's "new top priority" is affordable housing, wouldn't this be a good place for it? It's near public transit.

Oh, silly me. PA's still pushing for a 4:1 jobs to housing ratio while we residents lose access to the professional services we like and need.


14 people like this
Posted by Not in your backyard either
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 29, 2017 at 2:26 pm

The people who shout about NIMBYs as if that's a bad word, are always "Yes In Your Backyard." Where do you live? Would you like this development? Go ahead and invite the developer in, and offer incentives. Do it!

This isn't in my backyard but it sounds like something the residents and businesses don't want. Let's respect that.


2 people like this
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 29, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Might be good if the Weekly disclosed that you are down the street from this.


21 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 29, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Sorry, no web link available, but from today's Palo Alto Daily News:

"If she has her way, [Palo Alto Vice-Mayor Liz] Kniss said she also would like to see the city reconsider its ground-floor retail protections in 2018. She said online shopping giants such as Amazon continue to erode the viability of storefront retail and some of those spaces may be suitable for housing."

Perhaps Ms. Kniss is unaware that you cannot get a haircut over the internet.

The loss of personal services is a serious matter. If the current trend continues, we will have nothing but offices and housing. That may be great for Ms. Kniss' developer friends, but not so much for city residents.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm

"... she also would like to see the city reconsider its ground-floor retail protections in 2018. She said online shopping giants such as Amazon continue to erode the viability of storefront retail and some of those spaces may be suitable for housing."

(◔_◔) What a great place to raise the kids. (◔_◔)

In the meantime, -restrictions- should mean that, due to market supply and demand, and the lower amount that small business, both retail and services, can afford to pay, that the rent is low enough to fill the space. In other words, for the privilege of building an out-of-place building, the owner has to subsidize small business. Nobody is making the developer build this type of building in this location. Zoning restrictions can and should be enforced strictly in a case like this. If that means the development doesn't take place, so be it.

In the meantime-- what about parking?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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